June 26, 2009
A HIDA scan, which stands for hepatobiliary iminodiacetic acid scan, creates pictures of your liver, gallbladder, biliary tract and small intestine. A HIDA scan can also be called cholescintigraphy, hepatobiliary scintigraphy or hepatobiliary scan.
A HIDA scan is a type of imaging study called a nuclear medicine scan. This means the HIDA scan uses a radioactive chemical or tracer that helps highlight certain organs on the scan.
Here I am at Beer and Blog, a continuing event I attend nearly every week, but cannot say that I have ever actually blogged from here–but I am going to right at this very minute. Picture Portland on a sunny Friday afternoon–warm, but not too warm; the kind of weather we put up with eight months’ misery every year for–and about fifty geeks and their various diaspora on the patio next to the Green Dragon, under the shade of ailanthus trees*. With WiFi. This is, as the traditionalists would phrase it, how we roll.
As Christie reminds me, I am behind a bit in keeping people up to date, health-wise. Assuming that things hold steady, I’m hoping that this can be my last health-related blog post for some time.
“Is he dead?” This was asked by a disarmingly attractive man of about thirty, whom I’d never seen before, without preface.
“That’s the word,” I answered gamely, rolling my head, as much as this was possible, away from the TV on the wall–CNN’s insistent, repetitive and commercial-free coverage of the Michael Jackson situation–and toward him.
“Oh, I’m Steve. I’m a tech,” he said. A tech who, besides asking morbid questions about a pop star, didn’t have relevance in the room I was in. I was busy being prone, hovered over by a radiation-spitting camera tracing my liver and gallbladder onto a CRT across the room, just white-black two-dimensional shapes of internal organs, evolving, refreshing every several seconds like radar. Fading, in, out, organs changing as radioactive chemicals distributed themselves, got absorbed. There was a rogue, striking young guy in scrubs, who also happened to be a total stranger, staring at me while Michael Jackson died and I was prone, splayed like a bug, and he could see projections of my insides. I felt a bit exposed. He wandered off and I was submersed immediately into the same ennui that attends those Moebius Strip cable news network reports, speculation, speculation, an anchor’s specious affectation of concern. I was trapped.
If you have to have a HIDA scan, take note: It takes a long time, and you won’t be able to do much while it happens. Reading? Out of the question. I brought a book, a solid, hardbound edition of The Three Musketeers clocking in at several pounds. This was foolhardy. If you imagine someone on their back, flat, beneath a big cube of machinery, you can also realize that reading would involve putting arms in front of abdomens and thus blocking things. I also neglected to bring a human with me, for discourse. This is an oversight I regret.
Here’s how it goes. First they IV you–my main tech, Mark, did this with admirable alacrity–and then they fill your IV tube with the dye-thing-that-behaves-like-bile. This is all well and good but takes for-ev-er. Your sole consolation, at St. Vincent Hospital, at least, is a wall-mounted TV. I can tell you with recently refreshed data: ain’t nothing on the TV. This is how I ended up on the CNN endless loop. I should also mention that the TV was on my extreme right, which meant I was looking at it completely sideways, with my head turned while lying flat, which is one of the fastest routes to motion sickness I know.
After a long ass time, more than an hour, begins the real test.
“Most people, I’d say 85 percent, feel nothing,” Mark explained as he started the slow injection of the hormone that would cause my gallbladder to empty abruptly, “Think of this like a simulation of a very fatty meal–it’s going to cause you to dump a bunch fof bile.”
For the other 15 percent? Mark danced gamely around this, describing the sensation as “noticing that…something’s happening” to “cramping” to the eerily-vague “symptoms.” Fortunately I was of the former category and felt only the slightest flutter under my right shoulder blade. This went on for half an hour.
HIDA scans require you to go foodless and drinkless for much of the day. This was the gravest discomfort I experienced yesterday. Starving. Staggeringly, deeply and clamorously starving. Stuffing face with cookies and banana leaving the hospital, that’s a moment.
Dr. Gravitas called this morning to tell me what I really already knew.
“Your gallbladder emptied normally,” he said. I knew because I had watched its egg-sized lightbulb shape grow a tail on the monitor during the procedure. I watched my own gallbladder deflate and fill my cute little bile duct with goop. Neat.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I feel like I’m wasting everyone’s time. I feel completely normal now. I don’t know what happened.”
“You are never wasting time,” Dr. G assured me.
And really, something did happen. Something life-stopping and profound. But I may never know what.
As for now, I feel…great. The sensation of normal after such prolonged off-ness is something like a natural high. I can eat! I can walk down hallways! I can focus on a task! This is good stuff.